Feb 29, 2012
life & times of social networks
The new Facebook (FB)'Timeline' design is currently being implemented. The design's promotional headline reads, 'Tell your life story with a new kind of profile.'
This 'new profile,' however, must not appear very new to most social-web users. This design-pattern appears ominously familiar and similar to that pre-FB environment of the Goliath MySpace (MS), now effectively dead (presently an attempted reinvention is taking place with the help of former boy-band member turned Hollywood A-lister, Justin Timberlake). Ironically, even the once celebrated icon, default-friend, MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson has jumped ship. He found it so important that he address his use of FB with a post:
"People seem very confused why I'm on Facebook. I've had a profile since 2005 and a "fan page" since 2009. FB just created a feature where you can "subscribe" to profiles. They asked me if I wanted to convert my "page" into a simpler profile. Complicated? I suppose. Why am I not on MySpace? Because, I left the company in early 2009, and like most of you, I don't like using it anymore.. not a fan of what the new folks have done with MySpace. "
Anderson does not acknowledge the downfall of MP began during his watch. Nevertheless, the aforementioned design-pattern is the effect of social-web success. FB had "845 million monthly active users at the end of December 2011"  and it obviously continues to grow and expand. Much like MP once did, FB exists in both the world of the 'offline' and 'online' (a problematic dichotomy of this digital-age to be critiqued another time). It makes media, it reinvents media, it spreads media, and it is the media simultaneously. It is pop, and pop will eat itself.
Thus, the mob has relocated. In a perhaps problematic sign, users left MP, which allowed for greater environmental freedom, e.g., profile editing (through HTML), and they all signed up for FB. The FB environment as we knew it during the Great Migration was much different than MP. It was minimal, bland, and closed-in. (Let us not forget the history of FB, which began strictly for students of Harvard, to local-college students, to all college students, and then pretty much everyone.)MP on the other hand was busy, colorful, and open. This also means it was and remains clunky and slow-loading (a death wish today). With the influx of users, and with its freedom to 'glitterfy,' as Olia Lialina might describe it, the MP environment was almost barbaric, or anarchic. To its own detriment, its freedom led to its saturation.
Danah Boyd argues that the Great Migration related to a new white flight of teens based upon class-distinctions and racial inequalities. Her argument is both simplistic and out-of-step with the 'slang' she deems racial . She writes:
"The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other 'good' kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.
MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, 'burnouts,' 'alternative kids,' 'art fags,' punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.
In order to demarcate these two groups, let's call the first group of teens 'hegemonic teens' and the second group 'subaltern teens.' (Yes, I know that these words have academic and political valence. I couldn't find a good set of terms so feel free to suggest alternate labels.) These terms are sloppy at best because the division isn't clear, but it should at least give us terms with which to talk about the two groups."
Even if Boyd was on to something with regard to certain aspects of teens at this time, it was a short-lived affair and mostly useless now. Her binary does not appear to define most of the constant fluctuation, and subtlety of language and communication at play on the social-web. It is doubtful that 'ghetto' and 'bling' take on the sort of class and racial-conflict meaning she attaches to them. Instead, it is more likely that speed, usability, and a certain obsession with the perpetual new caused the Great Migration. In the end, teens only make up part of this deluge. We are now in full FB-as-King mode. With this power comes a seemingly necessary excess.
The mob now wants more. FB has gone through many large design changes in a very recent period, culminating in Timeline. This endless scrolling, busy, visually-problematic profile is the anti-thesis of the earlier FB environment that users flocked too. The question is, will it become busier? Will FB's fear of user-discontent over privacy issues force them to make less-Big Brotherly concessions? Does the internal-logic of an all-intergrated social-web already forecast FB's demise?
Regarding FB's 'myspacisation' and in reference to Boyd, Lialina writes:
"They will soon incorporate funny cursors, lake applets, background sound and the rest of the vernacular repertoire.
I can be wrong. Maybe right at this moment conscious upper class users are caning the Facebook admins with angry demands to remove this inappropriate application from their ìcleanî pages. But then, I donít know how are they going to spend their time on this service. As a communication platform Facebook is mega boring...here is hardly a reason to give them your data."
 Tom Anderson, Facebook Profile, September 18, 2011 near Los Angeles, CA
 Facebook Statistics: http://newsroom.fb.com/content/default.aspx?NewsAreaId=22. Accessed February 29, 2012.
 Danah Boyd, "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace": http://www.danah.org/papers/essays/ClassDivisions.html . Accessed February 29, 2012. Boyd does provide a response to her post, to clear up some "confusion": http://www.danah.org/papers/essays/ResponseToClassDivisions.html There is more to say at length about both posts in the future.
 Olia Lialina, "Vernacular Web 2": http://contemporary-home-computing.org/vernacular-web-2/ Accessed February 29, 2012.
March 2, 2012
on experiencing sound
Data visualization for the purpose of "digital literacy" is one thing, but this visualization may more often than not perform as info-graphics. They do not teach, they persuade, and/or hide/confuse (sometimes, they lie). This type of visualization continues the promotion and march of screen essentialism. The problem is not taste; fantasy and artistic design are fine and appealing, rather the problem lies with an ideology that champions our age as one of a highly literate Western digital culture. These visualizations may be nothing more than new symbols mythologizing once more the sci-fi and the computer. The computer, or now simply the cloud is romanticized or taken for granted. This is nothing new, but growth of access and use of the computer is new. We have many new digital "experts" and "know-it-alls" whose point-and-click abilities continue to impress.
A second point is one of data visualization with respect to aesthetic experience. Lets return to the cloud, or a specific example of the cloud representative of what Jaron Lanier would describe as the digital-mob (we'll leave "Maoism" out this time). SoundCloud is described by Wikipedia as, "an online audio distribution platform which allows collaboration, promotion and distribution of audio recordings." More importantly, it is highly social-web friendly, i.e., audio can easily be integrated and embedded anywhere on the Web. Lastly, SoundCloud represents audio graphically as a waveform, wherein users may comment on any "second" of track they are listening to.
Happiness is a Mystery
The collective is empowered. Cheers for progress, you may now comment on every second, every hi-hat and kick drum. You understand the meta-ness of a track. You understand meta-data, data-data. You now know music like no other time in history. In fact, you can now see it! The truth of this is while user-comments can be made hidden (thank you)the visualization of the waveform problematizes the listening experience. You are now involved in an expected anticipation of sound based on the visual.
"Happiness is a Warm Gun" (1968) off the Beatles' White Album is one of those brilliant examples of pop/rock music history. Stitched together of different styles/songs, it's a successful, powerful musical collage. The surprises within its three parts are many: time signatures, harmonies, melodies. (Only Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" (1997),is comparable in its three-part grandiosity and experimentation). The question is: how much of this experience is lost through the waveform? Through the audio-visualization? Or the "comments?"
My experience is of visualizing being the effect of a cause, that being the experience of listening. Deep listening. The symbols and mythologies followed from the music itself, attached naturally to experience and associations. But I deeply listened. The reading of internal comments, while visualizing the wave, is incomparable to reading and/or performing sheet music. Today deep listening is difficult. In this case, I am reminded of Nicholas Carr's fear of memory loss due to physiological changes brought on by changing reading, searching, and learning habits he blames on aspects of the Web . I feel my ability to deeply listen has been impaired.
Example: While sitting amongst sound artists, the work of others is critiqued by first accessing their track through SoundWave or, opening it up through a wave visualizer. Educational, especially in the sense of use of digital audio tools. However, I prefer to look away during the first play. Otherwise, I stare at the wave. I look at and search for its parts ten minutes in, while the track plays five seconds. I daydream, dissolve into the form, and back out again. I become frustrated and impatient before the track begins, because I can see it will be miserably long.
Fear the Meta
LastFm tracks your music-listening experience by "scrobbling" your song plays on whatever system you use. You can toggle your info to see who your top ten was this week, last month, a year ago, etc. Others can view your habits. Soon, you find your habits inform the data less, while the data begins to dictate your habits more. Everything has become social. Who are your LastFm friends? You should listen to more #jazz, as it is currently too low on your top list, and you know what friend #3 might think about that. How is one who listens to #jazz defined? Have you too much #mainstream? You haven't changed since High School. You have changed too much since High School.
Let us choose to experience the work of art along with its data (medium and/or content). Do not allow the data to dictate. Remain conscious of the need to be unconscious during experience. Learn to forget the mob. Fear the meta.
 read Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget ---A Manifesto, 2010.
 Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain, 2010.
"The sustained thought required now is the sort of real reflection that happens inside a human brain thinking alone or relating to others in small self-selecting groups, however elitist that may sound to the techno-mob, Freedom --even in a digital age --means freedom to choose how and with whom you do your reflection, and not everything needs to be posted for the entire world with "comments on" and "copyright off." In fact, it's the inability to draw these boundaries and distinctions --or the political incorrectness of suggesting the possibility --that paints us into corners, and prevents meaningful, ongoing, open-ended discussion. And I believe it's this m meaning we are most in danger of losing. No matter the breadth of its capabilities, the net will not bestow upon humans the fuel or space we need to wrestle with its implications and their meaning."
- Rushkoff, Douglas. Program or be Programmed --Ten Commands for a Digital Age . Soft Skull Press (2011). p 24.
Often the trolls of the past return or force themselves onto the perpetual digital-present. Some people, places, and things should be allowed to be forgotten.
Once losing a phone number was enough. I can stop going to my bar, if I choose. I can stop logging into my favorite L.A.-based chat room, and move on. Two things must happen:
1) I must stay away from you and
2) you need to leave me alone.
The Social-Web has quickly become a Social-Constraint. The absolute need to be in-the-know, Timeline-aware, and ever-connected allows for an acceptance of digital-harassment; A generation of newly nefarious, egocentric, voyeurs. I'll bet you think this post is about you /don't you.
Friend has been redefined to mean anyone you have ever known, know of, or want to know. It is OK if you are no longer friends. There is such a thing as an "acquaintance" and "enemy." Remember that, and forget the rest. The harassment is psychological. Humans have planted the critical meme into one other for ages, but now it is harder to run away from the embarrassment and the hate.It is important to remain critical and vigilant of the public/private sphere with regard to the use of your information by large social-systems (e.g., Facebook). But pay mind to individuals as well, fear your friends. A network is not inherently good, especially when described as a mob. Individuals make up the mob, and they can use you in any way they see fit.
Eli Pariser is naive. He fears the filter bubble, web personalization, algorithms of queries by Google . True these may be creating problematic thought silos, closing off some information (for the lazy researcher, i.e., this is nothing new). My issue is with his idealized conception of a super utopian, debating digital-citizen. For Pariser, Facebookers want to have a civilized debate, they want to read your conservative vs. liberal tirades and learn something from them. Maybe you can change their minds if given the chance. Pariser claims he is one of these liberals interested in conservative thought simply for the knowledge and critical thinking. I have a hard time believing this (maybe I am projecting).
If a person wants to find the information, they will seek it out. If that information becomes inaccessible based on click-taste, then there is a problem. It is a person's responsibility to remain critical in the face of any system or institution, or individual. Google can't and should not teach this. It is beyond the digital. Digital slogans, images, and cliches persist endlessly on the Web. I don't want to read your #ows post, or see your out-of-context photos. And I am tired of your signs.
Learn to use the filter, the block, the ignore, and de-friend. This is criticism in action. Choose to know or not know. Do not let digital information lead to anxiety. You not only do not have to agree, but you do not have to read or share or care. Contra Pariser, we are not all interested in hearing your opinions.One is entitled to their own opinion, but some opinions are better than others. Some memories, and people, are better off being quietly, and naturally forgotten. Neither Facebook nor friend #465 should force an answer down your throat. Get off of my cloud.
 Pariser, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Penguin Press (New York, May 2011)
Google Glasses I
Google is currently beta testing its "wearable computing" product, dubbed Project Glass. The sleek, minimal eyeglasses-head band hybrid are reportedly "graceful," coming in multiple styles and colors, and they can attach to eyeglasses. The pitch for Project Glass is that we need a sharing technology which allows us to freely-share, unencumbered by the hardware of technology getting in the way. Now one can enjoy a park without the distraction of hardware, and "naturally" share-away everything.
A New York Times' blog reports:
"People I have spoken with who have have seen Project Glass said there is a misconception that the glasses will interfere with peopleís daily life too much, constantly streaming information to them and distracting from the real world. But these people said the glasses actually free people up from technology.
One person who had used the glasses said: 'They let technology get out of your way. If I want to take a picture I donít have to reach into my pocket and take out my phone; I just press a button at the top of the glasses and thatís it.'"
And Google declares:
"We believe technology should work for you ó to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don't...one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment."
Technology should work for us, and we should return to an authentic Being-in-the-world. However, Google's interpretation, that of the web 2.0 ideology as a whole, is the inauthentic: filled with chatter, talk, gossip, (in)complete immersion with the other to the point of anxiety. "That freedom," argues Jaron Lanier, "ironically, is more for machines than people." 
"Thanks to this 'real-time' illumination, the space-time of everyone's apartment becomes potentially connected to all others, the fear of exposing one's private life gives way to the desire to over-expose it to everyone."  This was Virilio's warning in 1998 during rising web 1.0 web-cam, surveillance fears, the nascent-social-web.
With the high-speed movement of such immersive "sharing" technologies, it is difficult to imagine a moment of self-possession and acceptance of our mortality, or lack-of-immortality through the digital in the near future. Perhaps our savior is instead the fashionista,the same standard of taste that so far has kept the use of the disgusting Bluetooth mobile phone headset from becoming acceptable. Nevertheless, what is most problematic is the continued attempt to make technology completely invisible, furthering our digital-illiteracy.
Jaron Lanier, You Are Not A Gadget --A Manifesto, Vintage (2011).
 Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb, Verso (2005).
 see Heidegger Being and Time
Google Glasses II
For various reasons I must briefly return (and most likely not for the last time) to Google's social-web-connected glasses dubbed Project Glass. This week Google I/O, a three-day conference is being held in San Francisco. The conference website  describes it as a way to "Learn the tech world's latest web, mobile and social breakthroughs and meet the developers who are turning them into tomorrow's startups. Keep yourself and your team driving innovation at Google I/O,..." What is especially big news for this week's festivities is the availability of the Project Glass-es prototypes to a limited number of (only) conference goers willing to pay $1,500 . Google's co-founder, Sergey Brin certainly considers Project Glass the epitome of a "social breakthrough." He describes the glasses as "a nutty idea that somehow became real," and "The notion that you could jump out of an air ship with it and still communicate your experience makes holding a smartphone or laptop seem pretty damn awkward...It's about you being less of a slave to your device; it has been really liberating . I must quote now at length:
"Isabelle Olsson, an engineer on the Glass project, said the company created the glasses for people to interact with the virtual world without distracting them from the physical world. It's designed to interact closely with your senses, without blocking them."
She said Google had two broad goals in mind: communications through images and quick access to information. The device has a camera to capture fleeting moments and allow others to see the world through your eyes."
The pros of Project Glass are thus emphasized as such: 1) one becomes less of a slave to their social-web device, i.e., liberation of the individual 2) strengthened communications through images 3) quicker access to information 4) an even deeper, more expansive ability to share your self. "It's designed to interact closely with your sense, without blocking them" explains Olsson. The constant visual pop-ups for new messages, new e-mails, new check-ins, new tags, et al. is not a mental or visual block. The hardware is out of your hands and therefore you are liberated. In these quotations terms are becoming so vastly redefined and so quickly accepted with regard to our natural experience as mediated through a quickly transforming technology in such a way that I find alarming.
Liberation from one's devices now means further embedding them into your physical body. This does not liberate; rather, through its backgrounding of technology it further strengthens the device's hold on the individual (e.g., it's always already on, expected, and counted on). The glasses are "for people to interact with the virtual world without distracting them from the physical world." Here the virtual (online) and the physical (offline) are dichotomized in such a way that Brin and Olsson appear to be making the case for the primacy of the latter. I believe in this distinction without calling for a Butlerian Jihad against technology. But Brin and Olsson's apparent distinction is on the surface, in reality, their device and their philosophy is one that further deepens our need (quickly becoming forced/enforced) to "connect" the virtual and the physical through "sharing." What I mean is, it becomes clearer that you are not experiencing even the physical anymore if you are not only connected, but sharing it in the virtual world. Sharing it with your "friends," with your "network."
The device, its hardware, at least gave us the object, or the image of something we could rebel against, put away, hide, turn off, or cut the cord from. In the age of the social-web-cloud, where does Project Glass leave us? The virtual potentially becomes increasingly the physical, or encroaches on it as primary in the relation. In the age of the digital-mob, how do we find solitude? How do we experience the physical? And is it even important that we do? What I call for in reaction is nothing new or theoretically profound, and even with the addition of "famous" theorist/philosophers behind iterations of it, I am not attempting to glamorize something modest (they just came first and explain it so much better). Yet it remains a radical proposition now for different reasons. In 1958, Situationist Guy Debord wrote of the dÈrive, which results in:
"The lessons drawn from dÈrives enable us to draft the first surveys of the psychogeographical articulations of a modern city. Beyond the discovery of unities of ambience, of their main components and their spatial localization, one comes to perceive their principal axes of passage, their exits and their defenses. One arrives at the central hypothesis of the existence of psychogeographical pivotal points. One measures the distances that actually separate two regions of a city, distances that may have little relation with the physical distance between them. With the aid of old maps, aerial photographs and experimental dÈrives, one can draw up hitherto lacking maps of influences, maps whose inevitable imprecision at this early stage is no worse than that of the earliest navigational charts. The only difference is that it is no longer a matter of precisely delineating stable continents, but of changing architecture and urbanism.
Today the different unities of atmosphere and of dwellings are not precisely marked off, but are surrounded by more or less extended bordering regions. The most general change that dÈrive experiences lead to proposing is the constant diminution of these border regions, up to the point of their complete suppression."
This experience of the "city" is different than the "stroll" or the "journey" writes Debord. I find it helpful to think of the difference as the same as between "seeing" and "looking." Seeing connotes a deeper penetration, sometimes mystical or spiritual, either way, critical. Looking, on the other hand, I associate with an action which is more routine and less critical. Perhaps, the "dumb-look" versus the "deep-see." The best teachers understand this. Debord's theory in context relates to specific changes with the modern urban cities of France, or Europe. His "rules" or "guidelines" for proper dÈriving do not seem entirely serious or strict, and I would like to dispense with them mostly. The dÈrive however is an important reference to how we must act in the face of Project Glass, and what it entails for the major social breakthroughs (as indeed Project Glass is) to come in the next decade.
Neighborhood living spoils those who have had no other experience, and it enlightens those who finally gain it. The radical thing to do is to walk. Walk your neighborhood, and break up your comfortable routine (try the alley instead or a new corner-store). Immerse yourself in the local by foot. Experience local, neighborhood bars and eateries. Do this without device. See as you walk, expel the device for those moments (I am not asking for their book-burning equivalency). The culture of bicyclists (see: Critical Mass) already understand the power of the difference between the car experience and the smaller, more diversely mobile bike, with its ability to break down the city into new paths, roads, routes, etc. Unfortunately, in some instances this has resulted in another form of mob and gang mentality, physically and intellectual violent and political/economically motivated. This isn't a call for local-economics; it is not deglobalization for economic philosophers. This is not about an energy crisis. It is about recapturing one's experience of space, of others, of the senses, of the physical. If two or more are engaged in the walk, then make it informal; dispense with the junta of the mob. It may sound too romantic or sublime for some, but by all means deep-see walk. There are no promises or programs, there is just the experience of life-with-out-the-mob, with personal secrets and visions, and the pleasure of having them to yourself, or the health in forgetting. By all means walk.
 From Frank Herbert's Dune series. An event which resulted in the outlawing of most computers and especially A.I. exemplified by the commandment: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." I will revisit this in a future essay.